Moves from European Investment Bank, Qatar Airways, Ecuador-Chevron and all the latest from other brands in corporate responsibility and sustainability this month

Murky business

The Ecuador-Chevron pollution case, which, observers say, could become the largest environmental legal suit in history, has blown up into a series of allegations and counter-allegations about dirty tricks.

The judge in the case, which could lead to damages exceeding $27bn, has been shown by secret video recordings to be susceptible to bribery, Chevron said. But Ecuador’s attorney general, and campaigners such as the Amazon Defence Coalition, countered that the bribery allegations were a Chevron set-up. Nevertheless, the judge has stepped down.

Damages are being sought from Chevron because of decades of dumping of billions of gallons of polluted water in the Ecuadorian rainforest by Texaco, which Chevron acquired in 2001. Chevron says that Ecuador is being disingenuous, because its state-owned oil company, Petroecuador, was in partnership with Texaco during the period when the dumping took place. The long-running case will continue…

Uganda takes to timber

Uganda has become the first African country to start a reforestation project under the Kyoto protocol, earning carbon credits that can be sold on international markets. The World Bank-backed project, which was finalised in October, will see pine and native species planted on grasslands in the Ugandan Nile basin.

Uganda could benefit through the supply of about 300,000 carbon credits annually for carbon sequestration. Kundhavi Kadiresan, World Bank country manager for Uganda, says the project is a “milestone” that could also create up to 700 jobs.

Ganges clean-up

The Ganges river will by 2020 no longer be a wastewater drain full of industrial effluent, sewage and the remains of cremated corpses, the National Ganga River Basin Authority of India says. A clean-up plan costing $3.2bn will be put in place, with private companies invited to bid for a contract to develop a river-basin management scheme.

It will be the first attempt to manage the Ganges on a basin-wide basis. Previous attempts by local authorities to clean up parts of the river are seen as having failed. The Ganges is crucial to India, providing drinking and irrigation water to 43% of its 1.2 billion population.

Croatia and crime

In October Croatia came one step closer to joining the European Union, but was warned that the door will remain closed unless strenuous steps are taken to deal with corruption and organised crime. A European commission progress report shows that Croatia has met most criteria for becoming an EU member state, but that “considerable challenges” remain. In particular, Croatia must show it is cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague over war crimes investigations.

The commission also reported on negotiations with Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, but for these countries EU membership remains a more distant dream. Iceland, however, which handed in its membership application in July, is likely jump the queue.

Captured carbon hopes

A pilot carbon dioxide capture project in the US state of Wisconsin says it has succeeded in preventing about 90% of emissions from a coal-burning power plant from escaping into the atmosphere.

The project, at the 1.2 gigawatt Pleasant Prairie plant in the south-east corner of the state, uses a process involving chilled ammonia to remove carbon dioxide. The companies behind the pilot, We Energies and French multinational Alstom, have hailed the project a success, but will not disclose its cost, citing commercial confidentiality.

The announcement of the project’s results coincided with comments made by International Energy Agency chief Nobuo Tanaka, who said that by 2020 the world needs 100 major carbon capture projects costing $56bn, as part of the global effort to tackle climate change.

Blowing in the wind

The European Investment Bank has finalised a loan of €200m to Ireland’s largest energy company, to finance the installation of 248 megawatts of wind power capacity, equivalent to about 7% of Ireland’s current peak electricity demand.

Ireland is presently dependent on imported fossil fuels for 95% of its energy, despite being one of Europe’s windier places. Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board will use the loan for a programme of investment lasting until 2012. The EIB also said it would provide €300m for an electricity connector cable between Ireland and Wales, and that this would “underpin the development of renewable energy by enabling the import and export of excess wind power”.

Dash with gas

London was the departure point on 12 October for the world’s first commercial flight powered by natural gas. A Qatar Airways aircraft, heading for the Gulf state, was fuelled by a blend of gas-to-liquids (GTL) kerosene and conventional oil-based kerosene.

Qatar Airways says GTL will give airlines an alternative to conventional oil-based kerosene fuel, and will benefit the environment because of its low sulphur dioxide and particulate emissions. The innovation is also expected to benefit Qatar, which is positioning itself as the world’s leading GTL producer.

Business and corruption

Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden are the least corrupt countries to do business in, according to Transparency International’s 2009 Global Corruption Report, issued at the end of September. The most corrupt countries are Somalia, Burma, Iraq, Haiti and Afghanistan. The dodgiest EU country is Bulgaria, taking equal 72nd place alongside China, Macedonia and Mexico.

Meanwhile, although 90% of the world’s biggest 200 international companies have adopted codes on non-corrupt practices, fewer than half of them monitor compliance, Transparency International reports.

Something in the water

About two million Chinese become ill each year from drinking water with high levels of arsenic, China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection says. The ministry has given details of a survey of progress towards the country’s drinking water goals. Other findings are that 84 out of 113 cities surveyed did not meet government water standards in 2008, and that excessive levels of hazardous pollutants are found in the water consumed by 190 million people in China.

Air fair

Meeting in Ottawa in October, the International Civil Aviation Organisation backed a plan to reduce aviation greenhouse gas emissions by 2% annually up to 2020, with a further aspiration to continue the reductions until 2050. According to ICAO, the reductions could be achieved through measures such as fuel efficiency, use of alternative fuels including biofuels, and better aircraft technologies. Purchasing of carbon offsets might also be part of the mix.

But the commitment is not yet binding. ICAO says it will “establish a process to develop a framework” within which the reductions could be achieved, and that the preliminary promise was designed to feed into international climate negotiations at the United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen in December.

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